Liz Sheehan | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Liz Sheehan

Political party: 
Nonpartisan
Incumbent: 
No
Question 1: 

What do you think are some of the most pressing issues facing Lexington in 2020? What is your vision for Lexington, and how will the lives of Lexingtonians be improved as a result of your time in office?

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has, in part, reminded us of how interconnected we are. Moving forward we must harness the power of community as we build a Lexington where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. The care we have for our neighbors can lead us to meaningfully address the affordable housing shortage, increase the walkability and bikeability of our city, preserve our farmlands and agricultural economy, improve our environmental standards, make our local government more accessible, engage our neighbors in the process, and continue having crucial conversations and taking action on issues of inequality and racism. As our city grows, we must do so with thoughtfulness. I support in-fill and redevelopment and maintaining the current Urban Services Boundary, but that cannot come at the expense of the affordability and character of our existing neighborhoods. This will require open dialogue between residents, developers, and government officials. Recently, I helped develop a Public Engagement Toolkit with our Planning Dept designed to facilitate these discussions. I will work hard to bring about change on these important issues, but none of us can do it alone. It will take action from all of us to accomplish these goals.

Question 2: 

What is your plan for increasing access to safe, equitable, affordable housing, building homeownership and financial equity, and ensuring long term residents are not displaced from neighborhoods undergoing redevelopment? What is your position on tenants’ rights ordinances and halting evictions, rent, and mortgages during periods of high levels of unemployment such as the current COVID-19 pandemic?

People should not be priced out of or lose their housing because a historic pandemic has led to high levels of unemployment. Our community has a demonstrated commitment to helping address and prevent homelesness. We should build upon that history of care and concern by protecting our renters and homeowners from facing painful losses of housing. Our local leaders should be in regular communication with officials in Frankfort about protecting residents from eviction. Long-term, I would advocate for robust investment in our affordable housing fund, encourage mixed-rate housing developments, and would support adjusting or fixing property tax rates to income if there are large increases in property values. The Council can also partner with and foster collaboration between organizations supporting affordable housing, addressing homelessness, and protecting residents against eviction or missed utility payments, such as the Community Action Council. We should continue high levels of support to the Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention because of their proven results. The Council can serve as a leader in protecting residents from predatory buying through community education programs as well.

Question 3: 

Kentuckians from across the state are coming together to say Black Lives Matter and to demand that all Kentuckians can move through our communities without fearing for our lives or our loved ones. What is the role of the Urban County Council in opposing white supremacy, addressing racial inequality and supporting racial justice for Black people, Indigenous people, and all people of color in our state? Please tell us about at least one policy initiative you would propose or support as a Urban County Council member to address racial and systemic inequalities.

As a community, if any group is marginalized, then we have work to do. We must work together to create a place where everyone feels like they belong and can live without the fear of losing their lives or the lives of their loved ones. Our leaders must listen when people in our community come forward with a call for action to learn from those who are directly impacted by racial or systemic inequality--and then they must act. We can start by quickly enacting recommendations from the Racial Justice and Equality Task Force recently convened by Mayor Gorton. We should also prioritize choosing minority-owned businesses for government contracts. Our city government relies on various boards and commissions for guidance on policy making and implementation, and their makeup should reflect our community. We must work to increase membership and leadership from people of color within these groups. We must be proactive by fostering conversations around racial justice and dismantling systemic racism; Lexington has a history of being a trailblazer by passing progressive policies, such as our Fairness Ordinance, and we can demonstrate that type of forward-thinking leadership again.

Question 4: 

In recent years, elected leaders in the Kentucky legislature have been pushing for more proactive cooperation with federal immigration agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. What is the role of local city councilors in this conversation about protecting undocumented immigrants in Kentucky?

We are a nation of immigrants. Like communities across the county, Lexington’s immigrants positively contribute to our arts, community culture, workforce, economy, and innovation within the city. The city may be limited by state and national laws regarding some immigration enforcement, but we should push back strongly against efforts to harm our neighbors. Our leaders can and must take public stands for justice in order to help create a culture where immigrants are valued and protected. Every resident of Lexington deserves to feel safe and that they belong in the place they call home. I’m also committed to increasing accessibility to local government by enhancing the language availability of official documents and websites, increasing public awareness of the cultural diversity within Lexington by supporting festivals and events, and partnering with Global Lex and other local organizations working with immigrants in our community.

Question 5: 

The science on climate change is more robust than ever, and many agree that we are in a critical moment for the future of our planet. What has you concerned about climate change? What will you do as a city councilor to minimize Lexington's carbon footprint?

I am committed to leaving a better world for my child than the one I inherited. Climate change is a looming threat to a vibrant and hopeful future for our youth. As the Vice Chair of the Environmental Commission I helped lead local efforts to make Lexington more environmentally friendly. I am concerned about many aspects of the climate crisis, but the disproportionate negative impact on communities of color is deeply troubling; any potential solutions must take this into account. Our city developed a sustainability plan called “Empower Lexington.” Part of this proposal was the creation of a Sustainability Coordinator position to oversee the implementation of the suggested changes; I see this position as vital to successfully carrying out the goals of Empower Lexington. We must increase our green spaces, re-evaluate our recycling program, and invest in alternative transportation programs. Ensuring our city has a robust tree canopy is important for not only air quality but as a tool to reduce strain on our stormwater systems. I will continue the work that myself and many others have led to address environmental concerns, and with the support of an engaged and informed community we will move our city forward.

Question 6: 

How would you include constituents in your district and across Lexington in the development of the annual budget? What area(s) of the budget would you prioritize funding? What revenue increases would you propose to meet our city’s future budget needs?

Our city budget is a reflection of the values of our community. The process is complex and lengthy, which presents barriers to engaging many residents in setting our priorities. We need more accessible budget meetings with better notes/summaries. We must ensure that all budget related Council meetings are recorded for public viewing. Those recordings should be archived featuring well-marked portions of the budget meetings, so someone doesn’t have to view a multi-hour meeting to find their areas of interest. Considering the budgetary stress we are facing (likely for years to come), we must have honest conversations about what we should be prioritizing. I will advocate fiercely for robust funding to the affordable housing fund, our nonprofits, and the basic nuts and bolts of governing. There are areas of the budget that provide funding for services that are popular and undoubtedly add to the quality of life for a lot of residents, but in times of tight budgets we must prioritize meeting everyone’s basic needs. Our state leaders severely limited our city’s ability to increase revenue streams; our local leaders must continue lobbying those policymakers to allow for local governments to make the best decisions for our communities.

Question 7: 

Important meetings in the local government are often held during hours when many working folks are at work or unavailable. What specific initiatives would you enact to make local government more accessible to those who may not have the time or resources to participate?

I am committed to help make government more transparent, accessible, and accountable to all residents of our community. As a member of the CivicLex governance board, I work to demonstrate my commitment to transparent and accessible government. I am interested in exploring later meeting times to accommodate working folks, although that may be a longer-term solution. Increasing accessibility can take many forms; the current documentation process for government meetings is overly technical and presented in very formal language. I think meeting minutes should be more approachable and searchable. As an educator, I have a specialized skill set that allows me to communicate and distill complex information. Residents shouldn’t have to track down their representatives; if elected I would hold “office hours” around the district to directly engage with my neighbors. I will be intentional about being active and present in the 5th District.

Question 8: 

What will you do to provide support for individuals and families who will not receive COVID-19 stimulus payments, including people who are undocumented and young adults who were listed as dependents on their parents/guardians’ 2019 tax filings? What are your plans to address the disproportionate economic and health impacts of the pandemic on poor people and communities of color?

Supporting everyone in our community should always be a top priority, but especially in these times of pandemic and uncertainty. Lexingtonians need to focus on keeping themselves and others healthy, not whether they can afford their next meals or this month’s rent or mortgage payment. Our city’s nonprofit sector provides an array of essential services to so many of our residents; they need our support now more than ever.

            During this year’s budgeting process, a cut of almost $4 million was proposed across the Affordable Housing Fund and the Extended Social Resource (ESR) grant program that supports local nonprofits providing social services, including housing, utility funds, and food banks. Ultimately this cut was overturned due to the community outcry, but these funds shouldn’t have been in question.

            The Council recently approved a $2.5 million grant program to support local businesses with 40% of funds intended to help minority and women owned businesses. I support these actions which will undoubtedly keep local businesses open--saving much-needed jobs within our city. Along with providing essential life-saving services to our community, we need to think of our nonprofits as organizations that also support jobs and deserve consistent economic support from our government.

Question 9: 

What is your plan for ensuring that long term residents are not displaced from neighborhoods that are undergoing redevelopment? What is your position on Tenants’ Rights ordinances that seek to protect renters from unjust evictions? Please explain.

There should be an emphasis placed on approving projects that enhance neighborhoods that are being redeveloped. Mixed-rate housing developments, community land trusts, and mixed-use spaces provide ample opportunity to create an affordable housing stock. As previously mentioned, there should also be discussion around fixing property tax rates for low-income homeowners that are seeing rapid increases to their property values due to development. Many seniors living on fixed incomes would benefit from these types of changes. I have been working to improve conversations between developers and community members through my work on an advisory board for the Division of Planning. In addition to improved communication between developers and our residents, I’d like to help engage our renters in their neighborhood associations. Over forty-five percent of District 5 residents are renters, and many of them are long-term renters; by bringing them into the conversations that are happening within their neighborhoods, they are more likely to learn of proposed development projects and have more opportunities to share their support or concerns with any proposed changes. Additionally, as a member of the Lexington Fair Housing Council Board, I support fair housing practices and protections for residents.

Question 10: 

Substandard conditions in our jails and detention centers disproportionately impact Black and Latinx Kentuckians. Do you support ending cash bail and investing in alternatives to incarceration and detention? Why or why not? What is the role of the Urban County Council to enact these types of policies?

We have a legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty. People should not have to stay in jail because they cannot afford to leave. The evidence is clear that far too many people across this country are locked away for minor non-violent crimes, simply because they cannot afford to leave incarceration before their court dates. Pre-trial detention can have serious consequences such as eviction or job loss. While keeping in mind public safety, supervised release, similar to parole, where a person is monitored by a social worker is one potential alternative to cash bail systems. While I will always speak out for what I believe to be right, our state and national leaders must hear from all of us on these important issues. The Council has a role in starting these conversations and bringing the voices of our neighbors to other leaders.